Review by Wayne Swanson •
While it’s officially spring on the calendar, snow is making its last stand in many places around the world. But what if it were the last stand ever? In places like the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, that tiny European country surrounded by Belgium, Germany, and France, climate change is quickly making snow a thing of the past.
Jonas Byström has seen the change coming. The Swedish photographer, who has lived in Luxembourg since 2007, has spent the last 10 winters documenting Luxembourg City covered in white, anticipating the time when rising temperatures will eliminate snow completely. Winter White is his effort to increase awareness of the effects of climate change by documenting the beauty of snow-topped landscapes.
What at first glance seems like a one-note concept turns out to be an engaging take on the urban landscape. Rather than repetitive, the 100 black-and-white images provide interesting variations on a theme. Snow reduces landscapes to line and form, allowing us to appreciate architectural and natural features without distraction.
The white blanket focuses attention on basic shapes while also delicately highlighting edges that frame surfaces such as stairways, roofs, and windows. Barren tree limbs come to life when covered with snow. Even trash cans in front of a graffiti-covered wall make a pleasing composition when accented by a fine dusting.
The stark contrasts between black and white create a crisp, minimalist feel. The images are nicely paired on each spread, with common elements playing off each other like diptychs.
Byström’s intent is to increase awareness of the effects of climate change by documenting the beauty of landscapes covered in white. Yet the issue of climate change is raised only briefly in the final paragraph of the short encyclopedia-style history of Luxembourg that ends the book. An essay with a more direct focus on the images and the cause would have been more effective.
Although the social significance is muted, the images succeed in making the point that winter landscapes have a visual appeal that will be missed as global warming continues. The book stands on its own aesthetically as a celebration of an urban landscape wearing its winter white.
Winter White, Jonas Byström
Jonas Byström, born Sweden, resides Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Self-published: Jonas Byström, fipha editions (Luxembourg, copyright 2019)
Essay: Jonas Byström
Hardcover book, sewn binding, 12 in. x 8.5 in. 100 images, 104 pages
Photobook designer: Jonas Byström